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Posters of Oleh Sentsov during an action in support of Ukrainians illegally imprisoned in Russia held in Kyiv on June 2.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has expressed gratitude for an international campaign demanding the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who opposed Moscow's 2014 seizure of Crimea and is now on hunger strike in a Russian prison.

Poroshenko said on Facebook on June 2 that he is "grateful to everyone who joined" the call for Sentsov's release, denouncing what he called the Kremlin's "lawlessness and totalitarian methods."

"We will continue to fight for the release of all Ukrainian political prisoners and hostages" in Russia, Crimea, and areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists, Poroshenko said.

Petro Poroshenko
Petro Poroshenko

​Sentsov, who is a native of Crimea, is currently serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

His supporters across the globe on June 1 began the #SaveOlegSentsov campaign ahead of this month's World Cup soccer competition in Russia.

The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined in the campaign, saying on Twitter that Sentsov is a "victim of Russia's campaign to silence those speaking out against its occupation of Crimea."

Russia seized the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum deemed illegitimate by at least 100 countries in the United Nations. Moscow defends the referendum as a legitimate act of self-determination.

The land grab followed the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, in February 2014 after months of street protests.

Sentsov, 41, was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of planning fire-bombings of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea. A Russian court convicted him on multiple terrorism charges in August 2014.

Oleh Sentsov at his sentencing in 2015
Oleh Sentsov at his sentencing in 2015

Sentsov has denied all charges against him, saying that a "trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."

Russian politician and celebrity Ksenia Sobchak told Current Time, the Russian-language TV network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on May 31 and tried to persuade him to stop his hunger strike. She said he refused.

"I am not interested in the exchange, I made a decision, I thought about it for a long time, I am the person who is going to the end," Sobchak quoted Sentsov as saying.

"He looks very bad, he is very thin, his cheeks are pale, pale. But very confident in his decision," Sobchak told Current Time.

Global Protests For Release Of Ukrainian Director Held By Russia
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A global campaign to demand the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov is being organized on June 1-2.

Sentsov opposed Moscow's 2014 annexation of Crimea and is now on hunger strike in a Russian prison.

The #SaveOlegSentsov campaign is organized by the Save Oleg Sentsov group ahead of this summer’s World Cup soccer competition in Russia.

The group announced the campaign on Twitter on May 22.

Sentsov, who is a native of Crimea, is currently serving a 20-year prison term after being convicted on terrorism charges that he and human rights groups say were politically motivated.

"In different cities around the world, we will show a red card to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's regime, which illegally holds people behind bars,” the group said.

Sentsov, who is being held in the Far Northern Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Region, said he began a hunger strike on May 14.

He is demanding the release of 64 Ukrainian citizens that he considers to be political prisoners in Russia.

Politician and media star Ksenia Sobchak told Current Time TV, the Russian language TV network run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA, that she spoke to Sentsov in a video call on May 31 and tried to persuade him to stop his hunger strike, but he refused.

"'I am not interested in the exchange. I made a decision. I thought about it for a long time. I am the person who is going to the end,'" Sobchak quoted Sentsov as saying.

"He looks very bad. He is very thin. His cheeks are pale, pale. But [he was] very confident in his decision," Sobchak told Current Time TV.

Sentsov, 41, was arrested in May 2014 on suspicion of planning fire-bombings of pro-Russian organizations in Crimea. A Russian court convicted him on multiple terrorism charges in August 2014.

Sentsov has denied all charges against him, saying that a "trial by occupiers cannot be fair by definition."

The prominent Russian human rights group Memorial has recognized Sentsov as a political prisoner, and international rights organizations have called for his release.

Volodymyr Balukh, a pro-Kyiv activist imprisoned by Russian authorities in Crimea in another politically charged case, has been on a hunger strike for nearly two months.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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